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The Pursuit of Happiness (published in The Tribune 5/28/11)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:16 PM by Fccea Webmaster
One Superbowl winning quarterback and ESPN commentator has a way with words. His second wife divorced him in December, 1994. At the hearing her lawyer alleged that when she asked her husband why he had an affair he replied, "God wants me to be happy." Apparently God was less concerned about his wife!

No doubt God wanted that man to be happy just as He desires the happiness of all of His creation. But what that quarterback had experienced was not happiness. He had experienced the pleasures of sin for a season. You don't get happiness by breaking God's commandments. You get it by keeping His commandments.

True happiness is hard to come by. Like humility, the harder you pursue it, the more elusive it is. There's a reason for that. Happiness was never intended to be the goal of life; it is a by-product.

The Bible never says, "Be happy"; it often says, "Be holy". For example, Leviticus 11:44: "Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy." Jesus speaks similarly in Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." It's a theme throughout the Bible.

Perhaps the most interesting appeal to holiness comes in Ephesians 5 where God instructs on marriage. If there is any human relationship aimed at happiness, it is marriage, is it not? We all know that people get married for love and expect the euphoria to continue. Happiness is the goal of marriage, right?

Well, God has an interesting take on that. He beautifully weaves teaching about Christ and the church into lessons for marriage in Ephesians 5:25-26, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might make her happy?"

Well not quite! "Christ gave himself up for the church that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."

The emphasis is all on holiness. That, and not happiness, is God's focus for every marriage and for every life. Most marriages founder on this very point. It's fascinating that when marriage, or life in general, is made to be about happiness, failure is almost inevitable; when it is about holiness, happiness is an almost inevitable by-product.

Of course, talking about holiness is political suicide these days. We quickly tune it out. We're like the elderly gentleman who asked his doctor if he might live to be 100. "Do you smoke or drink?" asked the doctor. "Never." "Do you gamble or chase women." "No, sir," the man replied. "Well, then," the doctor asked, "why do you want to live to be 100?!" Like the quarterback, we equate happiness with the pleasure of sin!

Far different was David's take on things. Psalm 112:1: "Blessed (happy) is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!" Or Psalm 119:47: "And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved." To David it wasn't just keeping a bunch of rules. It was getting to know the God behind the rules, and he wanted that relationship more than anything.
C. S. Lewis once commented to an American friend, "How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing, . . . it is irresistible. If even 10% of the world's population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year's end?" Without a doubt, the impact would be dramatic. You don't get happiness by breaking God's commandments. You get it by keeping them.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton and Ault